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The Sabbath

In the Beginning

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Despite the misconceptions many have, the Bible is quite clear on these important questions. You need to understand the answers!

“And on the seventh day God ended His work … and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Genesis 2:2-3 Genesis 2:2-3 2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. 3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
American King James Version×
).

When we think of the Sabbath, we often think of the Ten Commandments, which God revealed when the ancient Israelites left Egypt under the leadership of Moses. The events of that period of Israel’s history—the Exodus—were extraordinary. The plagues on Egypt, the death of all Egypt’s firstborn, the parting of the Red Sea, manna coming from heaven for food in the desert and God giving Moses the Ten Commandments on stone tablets were all miraculous occurrences.

These events were dramatic testimony to the birth of a new nation. And in the midst of these incredible beginnings, God told His new nation to remember something. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” He commanded His people (Exodus 20:8 Exodus 20:8Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
American King James Version×
).

He pointed them back to His role as Creator, reminding them that “in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:11 Exodus 20:11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: why the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
American King James Version×
).

The Sabbath commandment had an important spiritual purpose. It pointed God’s people to Him as the supreme Maker of all things. It was a required weekly remembrance that a higher power and authority is at work in our lives and the lives of all humanity. God intended that the Sabbath be observed as a reminder of that fact.

God revealed the Sabbath day by miracles

The significance of the Sabbath was evident before God gave the Ten Commandments to the nation of Israel. For example, a few weeks earlier, after the crossing of the Red Sea, when the Israelites witnessed the destruction of Pharaoh’s armies, Israel entered the vast desert wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula. Within a few days the Israelites’ food supplies, brought with them from Egypt, were exhausted. “You have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger,” they cried to Moses (Exodus 16:3 Exodus 16:3And the children of Israel said to them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for you have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.
American King James Version×
).

However, God was already a step ahead of them. He promised to send manna, a miraculous substance to nourish and sustain them for as long as they were in the wilderness (Exodus 16:4 Exodus 16:4Then said the LORD to Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no.
American King James Version×
, Exodus 16:15-18 Exodus 16:15-18 15 And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they knew not what it was. And Moses said to them, This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat. 16 This is the thing which the LORD has commanded, Gather of it every man according to his eating, an omer for every man, according to the number of your persons; take you every man for them which are in his tents. 17 And the children of Israel did so, and gathered, some more, some less. 18 And when they did mete it with an omer, he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; they gathered every man according to his eating.
American King James Version×
).

But God imposed a condition. He would provide the manna only six days out of every seven. On the sixth day there would be twice as much as usual, but none on the seventh day (Exodus 16:5 Exodus 16:5And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.
American King James Version×
, Exodus 16:22 Exodus 16:22And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man: and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses.
American King James Version×
). Moses explained to the people what God had told him: “Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord … Lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning . . . Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is the Sabbath, there will be none” (Exodus 16:23-26 Exodus 16:23-26 23 And he said to them, This is that which the LORD has said, To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath to the LORD: bake that which you will bake to day, and seethe that you will seethe; and that which remains over lay up for you to be kept until the morning. 24 And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade: and it did not stink, neither was there any worm therein. 25 And Moses said, Eat that to day; for to day is a sabbath to the LORD: to day you shall not find it in the field. 26 Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none.
American King James Version×
). But some didn’t listen and “went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found none” (Exodus 16:27 Exodus 16:27And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none.
American King James Version×
).

What was God’s reaction? He said: “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws? See! For the Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day” (Exodus 16:28-29 Exodus 16:28-29 28 And the LORD said to Moses, How long refuse you to keep my commandments and my laws? 29 See, for that the LORD has given you the sabbath, therefore he gives you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide you every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.
American King James Version×
).

Here, several weeks before He spoke the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, God said the Israelites were refusing to keep His commandments and laws! He also said, “The Lord has given you the Sabbath.” He didn’t say “is giving” or “will give”; He had already given them the Sabbath, to be observed every seventh day!

When God commanded Israel, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8 Exodus 20:8Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
American King James Version×
), and told the Israelites they were refusing to keep His commandments and laws by violating the Sabbath before they arrived at Mount Sinai (Exodus 16:28 Exodus 16:28And the LORD said to Moses, How long refuse you to keep my commandments and my laws?
American King James Version×
), He pointed them back to the original creation week.

God set apart the Sabbath day

In the book of Genesis we read of God creating the earth, then filling it with plants and animals and forming it into a dazzlingly beautiful home for the first man and woman, Adam and Eve. Here we read of the real origin of the Sabbath: “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Genesis 2:2-3 Genesis 2:2-3 2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. 3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
American King James Version×
).

This day was different from the other days of creation week. God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it. The word sanctify means to set apart as holy. God specifically set apart the seventh day, making it holy. We read three times in these two verses that God did not work on this day. The emphasis is that this was His day of rest. It was God’s Sabbath rest.

Some people dispute this interpretation, saying this was not the origin of the commanded day of rest, noting that the word Sabbath isn’t mentioned here. However, the Hebrew word translated “rested” is a form of shabath, the root word for “Sabbath.” Shabath means to cease, or rest, and it is from this that the Sabbath gets its meaning as “a day of rest.” To paraphrase the account in Genesis 2, “God sabbathed on the seventh day from all His work.” The Hebrew language is clear and unambiguous in its intent.

God made the Sabbath for humankind

Remarkably, some will still argue that this doesn’t prove the Sabbath existed from creation week, maintaining that it wasn’t instituted until given to Israel at Mount Sinai and that it was meant for the physical nation of Israel alone—and for only a limited time.

However, Jesus Christ Himself dispelled this notion. “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” He explained to some who completely misunderstood its intent and purpose (Mark 2:27 Mark 2:27And he said to them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:
American King James Version×
).

He clarified the great underlying principle of the Sabbath day that so many have missed through the centuries: The Sabbath, far from enforcing a tiresome bondage or sanctioning a list of forbidden activities, is something God made for man! It was sanctified—made holy—when mankind was made, with God creating Adam and Eve on the sixth day of creation week and then creating the Sabbath on the following day by setting that day apart (Genesis 1:26-31 Genesis 1:26-31 26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. 28 And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth. 29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creeps on the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. 31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
American King James Version×
; Genesis 2:1-3 Genesis 2:1-3 1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. 3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
American King James Version×
).

To Jesus Christ the Sabbath was positive and beneficial, not the oppressive burden some religious leaders had made of it in His day. Notice His choice of words. The Sabbath wasn’t something just for the nation of Israel; He said it was made for man —for all humanity —and observing it wasn’t a meaningless practice forced on people to bring only hardship and difficulty.

The seventh day was made for man, created expressly for mankind’s benefit and well-being! Several other translations bear this out: “The Sabbath was made for the good of human beings,” says the Good News Bible. “The Sabbath was made for the sake of man,” reads the New English Bible. The Williams New Testament says, “The sabbath was made to serve man.” And the New Living Translation reads, “The Sabbath was made to benefit people.”

Jesus understood the purpose of God’s law, including the Sabbath—that God intended it to be a blessing and benefit to mankind. God, speaking through Moses, had earlier told Israel to “love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments.”

Why? “That you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess” (Deuteronomy 30:16 Deuteronomy 30:16In that I command you this day to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that you may live and multiply: and the LORD your God shall bless you in the land where you go to possess it.
American King James Version×
).

Moses, after leading Israel for 40 years through the wilderness, summed up the Israelites’ experiences just before they entered the Promised Land. He understood how wonderful the law was that they had received from God and how it was unique. “Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord my God commanded me … ,” he told them. “Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’ … What great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?” (Deuteronomy 4:5-8 Deuteronomy 4:5-8 5 Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do so in the land where you go to possess it. 6 Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. 7 For what nation is there so great, who has God so near to them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call on him for? 8 And what nation is there so great, that has statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?
American King James Version×
).

A blessing for all who choose to obey

God clearly intended the Sabbath to be a blessing to those who would use it as He intended. The actual instructions God gave regarding the day were brief but give valuable insight into its intent. Let’s look at some of these instructions.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:8-11 Exodus 20:8-11 8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shall you labor, and do all your work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates: 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: why the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
American King James Version×
).

On the Sabbath, we see that all members of a household were to rest from labor—even servants, guests and animals. All were to rest every seventh day from their normal, routine work. All family and household members were specifically listed, including parents, sons, daughters, servants and guests. If none did normal work on the Sabbath, presumably everyone would spend much of the day with other family members as a family or household.

The command to observe the Sabbath in all households is reinforced in Leviticus 23, where God lists the required religious observances He instituted—His feasts or festivals. He also makes it clear that the Sabbath is His holy time, not that of Moses or Israel: “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: “The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings” ’” (Leviticus 23:1-3 Leviticus 23:1-3 1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, Concerning the feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts. 3 Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; you shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.
American King James Version×
).

The Sabbath was not just a religious ritual for the tabernacle; it was an observance for every individual home throughout the nation.

A reminder of deliverance from slavery

We can find more details of God’s intent where the Ten Commandments are reiterated in Deuteronomy 5:12-15 Deuteronomy 5:12-15 12 Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work: 14 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your ox, nor your ass, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates; that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you. 15 And remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD your God brought you out there through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
American King James Version×
: “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”

In this listing of the Commandments, another aspect of observing the Sabbath is added for God’s people—remembering that they had been slaves in Egypt and that “the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand.”

The Sabbath was a weekly reminder of Israel’s humble origins as slaves in Egypt and that God, by mighty miracles, had delivered His people into freedom and established them as a nation. Now that He had given them rest from their slavery, everyone throughout the nation was to rest and be refreshed on the Sabbath, and servants were specifically included in that command. As God had given the Israelites rest, they, too, were commanded to allow their servants to rest, an additional reminder of the blessing the Sabbath was to provide for everyone.

The Israelites were specifically told to remember those events in connection with the Sabbath. God, through Moses, frequently reminded the Israelites how far they had come and how He had miraculously intervened for them on many occasions.

In like manner, the Sabbath is an important reminder for Christians today of our deliverance and liberation. Through God’s mercy and Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, Christians are delivered from spiritual slavery to sin and death, set free now to serve God (Romans 6:16-23 Romans 6:16-23 16 Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness? 17 But God be thanked, that you were the servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. 18 Being then made free from sin, you became the servants of righteousness. 19 I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as you have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity to iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness to holiness. 20 For when you were the servants of sin, you were free from righteousness. 21 What fruit had you then in those things whereof you are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. 22 But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end everlasting life. 23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
American King James Version×
; 2 Peter 2:19 2 Peter 2:19While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.
American King James Version×
).

God repeatedly warned His people to never forget what He did for them: “Only take heed to yourself … lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren” (Deuteronomy 4:9 Deuteronomy 4:9Only take heed to yourself, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life: but teach them your sons, and your sons’ sons;
American King James Version×
). “Beware, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Deuteronomy 6:12 Deuteronomy 6:12Then beware lest you forget the LORD, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
American King James Version×
). “[Beware] when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Deuteronomy 8:14 Deuteronomy 8:14Then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage;
American King James Version×
).

A time for religious instruction, teaching and joy

Notice that God also told the Israelites to teach their children His laws and ways. Immediately after repeating the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5, God instructed the Israelites: “These words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 Deuteronomy 6:6-7 6 And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart: 7 And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.
American King James Version×
).

The Sabbath, then, was intended to be a time for religious instruction, for teaching and learning of God’s wondrous acts and laws. Work was prohibited and God’s great miracles were to be remembered on this day. As Smith’s Bible Dictionary summarizes, “Thus the spirit of the Sabbath was joy, refreshment and mercy, arising from remembrance of God’s goodness as Creator and as the Deliverer from bondage … On this day the people were accustomed to … give to their children that instruction in the truths recalled to memory by the day which is so repeatedly enjoined as the duty of parents; it was ‘the Sabbath of Jehovah’ not only in the sanctuary, but ‘in all their dwellings’ ” (1884, “Sabbath”).

Observed this way, the Sabbath truly would be the blessing and delight God intended, a day of rest and refreshment with one’s Creator—learning, contemplating and practicing His laws and ways.

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